DESPITE becoming a political hot potato for those aspiring for national and congressional posts, support for the Reproductive Health bill as well as other pro-women advocacies should be added to the preconditions for choosing candidates in the coming May 10 elections.
This was underscored by the Alliance of Progressive Labor-Women as it joined today’s celebrations of the International Women’s Day led by the Martsa ng Kababaihan coalition, the local counterpart of the World March of Women, a global networking of feminist and other grassroots organizations.
“To gain the vote and cooperation of the organized women and their allies, political aspirants must guarantee that they will promote and implement women-specific concerns, along with particular demands of other basic sectors of society, such as the workers and peasants,” Marlene Sindayen, APL-Women spokesperson, said.
Thus, the APL added, the voters should pick candidates who would defend and uphold the interests of the majority, which could be seen in their respective stand on labor, trade union and human rights, agrarian reform, gender equality, foreign debt and international trade, Charter change, political dynasty and warlordism, poverty, education, social services, and many other fundamental issues.
Reviving the ‘murdered’ RH bill
APL-Women warned that politicians who vacillate on their earlier “pro-women” stance would receive equally lukewarm support if not outright rejection from women’s groups.
This situation has emerged following the offensive waged by the Catholic Church hierarchy and “pro-life” groups against the RH bill, which forced many erstwhile backers in the Congress to withdraw their support for fear of losing the “blessing” of the prelates and the purported votes of the religious faithful.
At least two major presidential bets who once expressed support to the RH bill have either toned down or backtracked on their positions, a move obviously to obtain the nod of the religious or pro-life bloc, but whose capacity to vote as one is considered by some to be a myth.
Besieged by threats of endless interpellations and the retreat of several RH supporters among lawmakers, the RH bill was practically killed when the Lower House ended its sessions last Feb. 3, in which the bill was set aside for it was deemed “too contentious and had little chance of being voted on.”
In fact, the different RH bills have been languishing in both chambers of Congress for about a decade now or starting in the 12th Congress (2001-2004) and have been filed or reintroduced to no avail in the succeeding Congresses until the recent 14th Congress.
“It is a testimony of how powerful the forces behind the anti-RH bill are,” observed the Akbayan party-list, one of the consistent proponents of House Bill No. 5043 or the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act, a consolidation of four related HBs in the House of Representatives.
Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who is vying for a Senate seat in the May polls, explained that contrary to its “narrow-minded” detractors, HB 5043 actually aims to “uphold and promote respect for life, informed choice, birth spacing and responsible parenthood in conformity with internationally recognized human rights standards.”
She added that it also seeks “to guarantee universal access to medically-safe, legal and quality reproductive health care services and relevant information even as it prioritizes the needs of women and children.”
If elected to the Senate, Hontiveros-Baraquel vowed to revive a version of RH bill in the Senate, which will complement with the Lower House version, which in turn will be steadfastly supported by the incoming Akbayan representatives.
“We will not stop until a consolidated House and Senate bills are finally passed into an RH law,” the Akbayan solon stated.
Penalize the perpetrators, save the prostituted
APL-Women is also pushing for the next 15th Congress to re-file the Anti-Prostitution bill, which, like the RH bill, was unceremoniously sidelined by the current Congress.
This proposed law intends to decriminalize and rehabilitate the victims – the prostituted women, children as well as males – and to strictly punish both the customers and pimps, especially the sex traffickers.
In the 1990s alone, there were about half a million prostitutes in the country, according to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia/Pacific (CATW-AP), which confirms a similar study of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Prostituted women and children are very vulnerable to the dreaded HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancy, violence, harassment and extortion from sex predators, syndicates, unscrupulous police and government officials, and even rape and murder.
“Prostitution is one of the worst forms of violence against women,” Sindayen of the APL-Women pointed out. “It commodifies women and children and perpetuates the false notion that men have a right to our bodies,” she added.
“We have to tackle the socioeconomic roots of prostitution, which includes poverty caused by the unjust distribution of wealth in the society,” Sindayen said. “But at the same time,” she stressed, “we have to forcefully cut the demand for prostitution by penalizing the buyers – the perpetrators themselves – and the business – the sex traders, club and brothel owners – which sustains the system of prostitution.”
March vs injustice, including Gloria
Coinciding with the IWD is the World March’s global campaign this year called the Third International Action, which include opposing the “privatization of nature and public services,” militarism, workplace discriminations, and all forms of violence against women (VAW).
Adopting that themes in the Philippines, the Martsa ng Kababaihan likewise called for fighting sexism, especially the discrimination based on gender or against women; the neoliberal trade policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that benefit only the corporate elites; the militarism that pervades the country and strangles the citizenry; and the corrupt and despotic regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Unfortunately, while the country has a woman president, her rule is illegitimate and remains the epitome of ‘macho politics’ and where poverty and misery of the majority, including women, have worsened,” the APL-Women declared.